Obituary in The Australian 6 September 2013

Elisabeth Wynhausen,
acerbic truth-teller, dies aged 67

ELISABETH Wynhausen, writer, truth-teller and child of Dutch Jews who escaped the Nazis, died in Sydney yesterday at the age of 67 after a short illness.

"She was so Dutch, she was harsh and unsentimental -- and deeply compassionate, all at the same time," said her friend, writer David Marr.

"She was deeply, deeply concerned about social justice but she came at it without any cant. I think really her best book was her book (Dirt Cheap) about going around doing all those rough jobs -- it's compassion without ideology. It was about facts, it was about how people actually lived."

Wynhausen, who turned out painstaking journalism for papers including The Australian, The National Times and The Bulletin, grew up in Manly, where her mother, Marianne (Nan), had a shop, Paris Frocks.

Her poignant and hilarious memoir Manly Girls captured that era, as well as Elisabeth's adventures as a student bohemian, improbable schoolmarm and expatriate in New York. Like her mother's, Elisabeth's humour was earthy, uproarious and mischievous. They also shared a remarkable openness and curiosity.

"And she was a very pure person -- you were never in doubt with Elisabeth about anything," said her friend Kim Williams, former chief executive of News Corp Australia. "She was the most truthful person I've ever known. It upset people at times but I always found it to be the greatest tonic imaginable. She was awesomely direct, passionate, she was loyal, independent, she was a wholly original person."

Colleagues and friends were drawn into a kind of serial publishing venture as she shouted, or sometimes conspiratorially whispered, the latest sample of a work in a progress, whether it was her essay On Resilience, an overdue feature for the newspaper or her book-length foray into gloomy economics, The Short Goodbye.

Her friend Kathy Bail, chief executive of the University of NSW Press, said: "She'd get on the phone when she was working on a book and she'd read the first paragraph to you, or she would try a quote out on you -- 'Check this out!' She's probably recited half of her works to me at various times."

If her prose appeared effortless -- with a telling anecdote perfectly placed, a narrative rhythm, and a sly joke -- the process was full of doubts. "She was honest about every single sentence," Marr said. "She couldn't bear any taint of exaggeration, of pomposity, of falseness. She worked ruthlessly at her prose, to make sure that it was true."

Both parents and her only brother, Jules, having died, Elisabeth is survived by niece Gabi and her partner Aaron, as well as nephew Jessie and his wife Joanna. Her funeral is expected to be next week.

by TOM DUSEVIC  The Australian September 09, 2013

Elisabeth Wynhausen's fire lit up newsroom

Elisabeth Wynhausen

Born: June 23, 1946, Maastricht

Died: September 5, 2013, Sydney

ELISABETH Wynhausen was the platinum standard of "slow journalism", an increasingly rare, old-school craft that demands legwork, total immersion, creativity and a mission to report truthfully, bugger the consequences.

She died in Sydney on Thursday after a too-short tussle with pancreatic cancer, a sneaky ogre she greeted with a two-fingered snarl and no self-pity. A guiding light of Australian journalism, particularly for those she mentored, Wynhausen was also the combustion heater warming the troops at The Australian and, frequently, scorching our generals.

Because she took such obvious joy in her toil, and friendship was her defining art, Wynhausen was loved in the Sydney newsroom for what she was: loud, fearless, truculent, profane, indefatigable, compassionate. She made life grander in our factory of facts and opinions.

Wynhausen neither prepared her yarns in a hurry nor without focus-testing her zingers on colleagues and friends; she may have been the only social media participant who'd run drafts of her tweets past friends.

After fossicking in the field for fresh produce, she would obsessively work the story's ingredients into something wonderful and whole, no matter that her reporter's nose and buoyant spirit habitually took her into the world of child runaways, itinerant workers, prisoners, sexual slavery, indigenous deprivation and the mentally ill.

For her, deadlines were not watertight contracts, rather the tedious preserve of uptight editors and publishers; her dedication was to getting the words just right. How lucky we were as readers that she relentlessly aimed for perfection.

Her authorial voice was distinct: wise and warm, sassy and direct, whether in newspapers, magazines, her Backstreet Bondi blog or on Twitter.

Unlike other writers with such gifts, Wynhausen did not go in for "look at me" prose. She always wanted her subjects to be the stars, and they were, because she discovered, then revealed, their vulnerability and humanity.

She wrote about presidents and prime ministers, mostly without reverence, always with insight, as she was essentially an outsider, as many first-generation migrants are. She was born in Holland in 1946 and the family came to Australia in 1951.

Wynhausen grew up on Sydney's northern beaches and got a cadetship at The Daily Telegraph in 1970. She made her name writing profiles at The Bulletin and The National Times before heading to the US in 1978 to work from New York, her second home.

America enlarged her journalism and emboldened her projects. She'd go where other foreign correspondents wouldn't or couldn't, reporting on race in the Deep South and deconstructing an ascendant Ronald Reagan.

Her book-length odysseys of reportage, Dirt Cheap (2005) and The Short Goodbye (2011), are models of telling the stories of people missing from the grand narratives of politics and economics.

A memoir, Manly Girls (1989), and the pocket essay about her mother, Nan, and brother, Jules, On Resilience (2009), are her masterworks.

The first is a coming-of-age story, at times poignant and mirthful; the latter an unsentimental meditation on hardship, written while grieving for the two great loves of her life.

Reporters and editors at The Oz still hear Wynhausen's snappy voice in moments of boisterousness and crisis, a bracing wit that pops out occasionally at the coal face these days.

Yet if you ever heard her sing Happy Birthday in Dutch, you would cherish the memory forever; it was as if she were nine again, wide-eyed, full of joy and endless possibility, giving it her all.

by DAVID MARR The Sydney Morning Herald September 12, 2013

Vale Wynhausen

Elisabeth Wynhausen could be a pain in the neck. She was raucous and noisy. She wouldn’t let up. Her default setting was full throttle. And she had an unwavering confidence that she and she alone knew how the world worked.

But Elisabeth’s loud mouth and sharp eyes were attached to a great heart. She had insight and was endlessly funny. Her friendships were deep. Her sympathies sound. All the restraint she lacked in life, she brought to bear on prose that was sparse and true. Her taste was impeccable.

She was forgiven everything by her friends and a lot by her editors. Getting a story out of Wynhausen was an all-of-paper operation: endless talk and cigarettes and missed deadlines as she taste-tested each paragraph rolling slowly out of her typewriter. She ignored advice and took applause in her stride.

Elisabeth was born in Holland in 1946 to Paul Wynhausen and Marianne Nathans who met in exile in Switzerland during the war. Grandparents and cousins were slaughtered in the camps. In 1951 they brought Elisabeth and her little brother Jules to Sydney where Paul later drove taxis and Marianne opened Paris Frocks of Manly. 

The daughter and the mother she adored were so alike. They had the same laugh, the same mischievousness and intellectual curiosity. Nan was canny. Elisabeth could live well on next to nothing. Late in life she wrote a fine essay celebrating her mother and brother: On Resilience.

She gave journalism a try after idling on the bohemian fringe of Sydney and trying to teach at a girl’s boarding school.  “I had drifted about for years, unsure what to make of myself,” she wrote. “I couldn’t have been more exhilarated at stumbling into something that seemed to resolve the question once and for all.”

She was rude to the Packers and rose through the ranks. She was soon writing for Donald Horne’s Bulletin and then crossed town to Fairfax and the National Times. Wreathed in cigarette smoke, cackling at her own jokes and nudged by her husband the critic Don Anderson, she turned out work of great elegance and bravery. Her stories were events.

After she and Don separated, Elisabeth spent the 1980s in New York where she found and lost the love of her life. Sitting in her loft at the bottom of Broadway she wrote for the Age, the National Times and Ita Buttrose’s Womens Weekly. But her real work in those years was the best thing she ever wrote, her memoir, Manly Girls: “We came to Australia by accident…”

When she returned to Sydney to be close to her old parents, she worked first at the Sun Herald and then she began her long and fiery stint on the Australian. Elisabeth made no secret of her hostility to the paper’s political line. In her fifties, she counted herself a rebel. Her mockery of the paper’s senior editors is part of the folklore of contemporary journalism.

Elisabeth came from a world of hard work and voiceless people. Her years in America had left her more determined than ever to report that territory. Her social conscience was strong but not ideological. Theory was not her strength. What she did was win people’s confidence and tell their stories.

Two remarkable books came from this: Dirt Cheap written after a year spent working in menial jobs around the country and The Short Goodbye that investigated the human wreckage of the GFC. Its first chapter is a pithy report of her own sacking from the Australian.

Elisabeth was remaking herself as a tweeter and blogger – Betty of Bondi – when she learnt in May this year that she had pancreatic cancer. The news was kept from all but a close circle of friends. She did not want to be pitied, or seen to be frail or be encumbered by other people’s grief. She died last week as she lived: funny, unsparingly truthful, brave and loved.

She is survived by her family - niece Gabi and nephew Jesse, their partners and children - by friends, by colleagues of the last 45 years each with their own Wynhausen stories to tell, and by her writing. Just before she died she placed the best of it on

Her funeral is today at 2.15 pm at Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park, Military Road, Matraville.

by NICK LEYS The Australian - The Diary - Media Section September 09, 2013

Vale Wynhausen

Like most Journos who have done time in newsrooms, Diary has encountered plenty of practitioners of the art of colourful language. None of them came close to the great Elisabeth Wynhausen, the brilliant and bombastic journalist who rudely died on Thursday without saying farewell. Her epitaph should say "Betty raised hell" and she inspired the younger journalists around her to take on everything they throuw at you.

One of those young reporters was curious after hearing Wynhausen refer to people she did battle with as a "special occasion" and asked her what she meant. She explained she had been told off by a colleague for using the c-word too often and was advised "you should save that word for special occasions.

The editor-in-chief of The Australian Chris Mitchell, said: "Igon on well with Elisabeth and was very sad to hear the news. She never took a backward step, something I admire."

Initial memorial service plan have been changed, "due to poular demand", to a bigger venue ... And a very worthwhile collection of her work can be viewd at

by ERROL SIMPER The Australian - Media Section September 09, 2013


We'll move onto the word "farewell", albeit with reluctance. A former colleague, Elisabeth Wynhausen, died last Thursday and we should here record a fond farewell. Wynhausen's friends, such as News Corp's former chief executive Kim Williams, and her journalistic colleague form the old National Times, David Marr, have already spoken about her directness and addiction to absolute written truth. We add this, with affection: she was also loud. Those in this (Sydney) office who sat nearby would frequently tell Wynhausen, 67, not to bother with a phone. Elisabeth out of an open window would have been comfortably audible in Melbourne. A singular, colourful, well-liked woman.

by NATASHA MITCHELL ABC Radio National - Life Matters - September 11, 2013

Vale Elisabeth Wynhausen

Revered journalist and author, Elisabeth Wynhausen has died at age 67 after a short illness.

Elisabeth was known by her friends and colleagues as searingly honest and curious person with a mischievous sense of humour. 

You may remember Elisabeth Wynhausen’s by-line. She wrote thousands of articles during her time as a journalist for The Australian, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The National Times and the Sun Herald. She was passionate about social justice and telling ‘people’ stories. Her journalism didn’t just stop at a few phone calls, Elisabeth often lived her stories.

Elisabeth is survived by niece Gabi and her partner Aaron, as well as nephew Jessie and his wife Joanna.

You can find a selection of Elisabeth's Wynhausen's articles on her website at

· listen here ·

by JOHN MORCOMBE Manly Daily September 06, 2013

Elisabeth Wynhausen: Conveyor of truths dies

FORMER Manly girl and acclaimed journalist and author Elisabeth Wynhausen died yesterday, aged 67, after a short illness.

Her best-known book, at least for local residents, was Manly Girls, which was described as "a poignant and hilarious memoir" that captured post-war Manly.

She was the child of Dutch Jews who escaped the Nazis and settled in Manly.

Wynhausen wrote for The Australian, The National Times and The Bulletin.

Her friend, writer David Marr, described Wynhausen as "so Dutch, she was harsh and unsentimental, and deeply compassionate, all at the same time".

"She was deeply, deeply concerned about social justice but she came at it without any cant," Marr said.

"I think really her best book was her book (Dirt Cheap) about going around doing all those rough jobs.

"It's compassion without ideology. It was about how people actually lived."

Another friend, former News Corp Australia chief executive Kim Williams, ­described her as "the most truthful person I've ever known".

"She was awesomely direct, passionate. She was loyal, independent. She was a wholly original person."